Interviews

Andrew Lloyd Webber

Andrew Lloyd Webber, Behind the Mask: “It Wasn’t the Best Time of My Life”.

By: Ellis Nassour

April 14, 2023 –“Though London advance sales and audience reaction during previews suggested an unstoppable hit,” Lloyd Webber stated, “I wish I could say I had the best time of my life during those heady days. At openings, even when you feel you have the public with you, you’re at your most vulnerable. I couldn’t bear to sit through the show.”

Andrew Lloyd Webber, Behind the Mask: “It Wasn’t the Best Time of My Life“.

By: Ellis Nassour

April 14, 2023 –“Though London advance sales and audience reaction during previews suggested an unstoppable hit,” Lloyd Webber stated, “I wish I could say I had the best time of my life during those heady days. At openings, even when you feel you have the public with you, you’re at your most vulnerable. I couldn’t bear to sit through the show.” 

Cameron Mackintosh, co-producer, with Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Company, found him and got him back for the curtain call. Amid the thunderous applause, the composer yearned to have loved ones around him. But (then) wife, Sarah Brightman, playing Christine, was basking in audience adulation with her Phantom, Michael Crawford. While all were celebrating,” Lloyd Webber said, “I felt alone and frightened.”

He recovered quickly, and looks back with pleasant memories. Phantom is the only show I’ve done that was entirely unchanged during previews. Our brilliant director Hal Prince was so certain we’d be a hit that he suggested we take a holiday and return for the opening.”

It didn’t help when Lloyd Webber felt anxious pangs when the first review, by the London Sunday Times critic read, “Masked balls.” “Those were the only words uttered,” he notes. “Most composers, let alone producers, would be suicidal to receive something like that from a major newspaper. It didn’t phase Cameron one bit. He called while having a jolly good breakfast and said nothing any reviewer wrote could alter the fact that Phantom had chimed with audiences.”

Lloyd Webber, even after blockbuster hits Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita, and Cats, was used to critical snipes. He points out that POTO’s reviews “were wildly polarized between those who really did or really wouldn’t surrender to the music of the night.” 

What was most upsetting was ruinous gossip that Brightman, an alumna of the West End Cats who’d been onstage since her teens, got the role because she was the composer’s wife.

 “The fine line between success and failure is perilously small,” Lloyd Webber states. “I’m struck 30 years hence with the phenomenon Phantom has become. Much credit goes to the late Maria Björnson for her dazzling design and costumes. And would another choreographer have understood the period as well as former prima ballerina Dame Gillian Lynne (Cats)? 

“I can’t remember how many said the chandelier moment could never work. It turns out to be the most theatrical moment I ever conceived—a moment that can only be achieved in live theater.”

The late multi-Tony winning director Prince said, “I was instantly hooked on the idea that Leroux’s classic was musical material. The secret to the show’s unparalleled success was the team of consummate professionals—producers, musicians, our super-prodigious choreographer and fabulous designer—who were always ready for anything. Andrew’s idea to make the emotional center of the show a love triangle struck a chord with audiences. It’s the crucial difference between our musical, the novel, and other versions of the story.”